Constitutional Government as a Way of Life
In my office hangs the original Multi-Level Program Constitution written and signed by the students from Freeport who were members of the first year cohort in 1986.
Each year for 26 years I taught Multi-Level (aka Spring Hill Program) students in grades 3-5 in what could best be described as a democratically-run school within a school. In my first class in social studies each year students learned about the importance of Constitutional governance—our model of decision-making. We talked about the three branches of government, in this case Judicial/teaching principal, Executive/educators, Legislative/students, writing and passing bills (vetoing and overriding as well) to govern our classes, and the importance of collaborating as a group for the good of all.
In the first year the students identified the important values to include in our Constitution as Safe, Kind, Helpful and Polite, later adding Respectful, Responsible and Cooperative. The guiding principles were simple, ask “Is it..?” If an action could be answered with “Yes” for each it was okay to do. If the answer was “No” to one, then the action wasn’t okay.
The point of the Constitutional lessons was to be sure that each student had a voice in decision-making and understood the expectations, at the same time taking personal responsibility for choices. You see in the Spring Hill Program it wasn’t about doing what the adults said was okay, it was about doing what was right for the group.
If changes needed to be made the students wrote bills to be considered at our weekly Student Congress that would strengthen their learning, our teaching, and the overall goodness of our Program.
I moved from the school to the MEA four years ago, and I continue to live by written governance documents—this time the MEA Constitution and Bylaws, the Resolutions and the MEA Board Policy Book.
These documents (found on our webpage behind Members Only) define the MEA, our beliefs and values, and our expectations for participation as both an employee and a member. Again these are not rules for the sake of rule following, but rather assure that the MEA is doing what is right for our members and our students as defined by our delegates at the Representative Assembly (Member Congress) each May.
Each time there is something having to do with governing the MEA, the Board of Directors and I return to these documents to determine our course of action. Our documents drive our decisions for the most part—taking the decision of the RA and applying it to the situation at hand. I encourage you to go to our website to acquaint yourself with them as well. These may help explain why the BOD or I make the choices we do in the time between annual RAs. Even more, you may find that there is something that needs improving or changing entirely.
If you believe there is a position that better suits MEA membership, I encourage you to consider running for a position at the MEA RA in May, and to submit a Constitutional or Bylaw change, a Resolution, or a New Business Item (action MEA will take) for consideration by the delegates.
Just as I helped my students learn leadership skills and direct our Spring Hill Program to stronger educational activities, I also encourage you to take the lead in our professional Union, taking it to higher levels that will strengthen our Association and improve public education for colleagues, communities and students.